John 1:46 reads “Nathanael said, Can anything good come out of Nazareth? And Philip responded, Come and see.” Today I was on the bus with two people who were dissing some community I had never lived in. The two men reflected that they lived in this part of the city and had nothing but trouble and in another part of the city where things had always worked out so well. “See”, said one, “nothing good comes from…”
That is precisely why the author of John’s Gospel chose to identify Jesus with Nazareth. In Jesus’ day Nazareth was the laughing stock of the region, people thought it a backwater, a place where nothing good could happen, where the people were thought to be less than human. Placing the birth of the Messiah in a barn among farm animals was one thing. In end we domesticated that by making the barn and the animals look like a Disney film. Doing likewise to this dissing of Nazareth and connecting it to Jesus has proven more challenging for those who want to make the Bible into a Hallmark card.
I think the Gospel writers are telling us something with the way they portray Jesus. Look at Palm Sunday, the Messiah was expected to arrive like King David on a mighty horse, with sword and crown. Instead Jesus showed up on a donkey in his plain clothing. The message seems clear, we expect truth and wisdom to come in power and privilege but God chooses to come among us in the humble and unexpected.
Looking for what we want in familiar places, places our culture celebrates because they are shiny and new, can lead us to some joyful times. But I find that being open to places and people commonly thought to be inferior or odd can surprise us with new insights. Here in Halifax people assume if you take the bus there must be something wrong with you. I once had someone tell me, “Ministers don’t take the bus, only poor people, students and seniors ride the bus.” But I find that being open to bus conversations has exposed me to some delightful moments.
Yesterday I was on another bus with a man who was walking up and down the aisle asking a question. I could not make him out so moved closer. I still could not make out this man’s words so I began to pull back, assuming the challenges of this man were well beyond my capability to help. Just then a lawyer, he was wearing a McInnis Cooper jacket, stepped in. He did understand the man walking up and down the aisle. The lawyer repeated the question, “you got on the wrong bus and you want to get back to the Rehab hospital.”
Together we sat with the man in the Superman t-shirt and explained how he needed to get back to the Mumford Terminal and then take the #1 to Spring Garden Road. I thought to myself, who would have thought a lawyer would be riding the bus, a lawyer from such a big firm would be the one to take the time and assist this man in need? Not me. And I was wrong.
What we need often comes from those we least expect to have the answers. Just the way God intended it.